Derbyshire, A Place for Poetry and Politics

This week’s blog has been written by Lorna Ormiston, a history undergraduate from Sheffield University who specialises in the 17th and 18th century.

During my four week placement at Buxton Museum, I had the opportunity to handle both Thomas Hobbes’ and Charles Cotton’s poems on the “wonders” surrounding Derbyshire.

hobbes coverThomas Hobbes’ poem De mirabilibus pecci, which was first published in Latin in 1636 and then published later in English, is a celebration of what Hobbes referred to as the seven wonders of Derbyshire.[i] These wonders included: Chatsworth House, Tideswell’s Ebbing and Flowing Stream, Mam Tor, Peak Cavern, Poole’s Cavern, St Ann’s Well in Buxton and Eldon Hole in Peak Forest.[ii]  Whilst, photographing the topographical poem for the museum’s historical records, it was clear that Hobbes’ recognition of Derbyshire was in part motivated by Hobbes wanting to bolster his reputation. Unbeknownst to Hobbes, Hobbes later becomes well-known for his political theory in his work Leviathan published in 1651.[iii]

hobbes dedicationHobbes’ use of “flowery” language and his dedication to his client William Cavendish, the second Earl of Devonshire and the person he tutored around Europe. This was a journey which many nobles took known as the “Grand Tour” often with chaperones as the journeys were meant to better educate the nobles to prove that elites should be in positions of power.  However, often nobles engaged in ill-pursuits.  One place which was known for this was in Venice and as a result became a part of its mythology. For instance, in Thomas Dekker’s ‘Penny-Wise, Povnd Foolish’ which was published in 1631, it tells the tale of an Englishman swayed by a “bewitching” courtesans in Venice.[iv] Therefore, it is also interesting that having come from touring Europe, Hobbes wanted to promote Derbyshire since domestic travel was not prized during this time and his poem is even considered Derbyshire first guidebook. Yet, Hobbes aggrandisement of William Cavendish also suggests Hobbes intended not only to paint a picture of Derbyshire but place importance upon himself as a writer and upon his clients.

Charles Cotton’s satirical poem The Wonders of the Peake, published five years later than Hobbes’ English version of the poem was brought out reaffirms that Hobbes’ poem was not entirely accurate and had other motivations than just encouraging tourism in Derbyshire.[v] For instance, Cotton refers directly to Hobbes in his poem stating that Hobbes takes “rational guesses” and does not take seriously his descriptions of Derbyshire. [vi] Nevertheless, it is clear Cotton had admiration for Hobbes’ referring to him as someone who “thinks best” and is ‘best read’.[vii] Yet, Cotton can be seen as being more at ease with Derbyshire having been born close to the county. Cotton even takes ownership of Derbyshire, which can be seen in one of Cotton’s most descriptive verses (pictured below).

cotton dove verse

This is because Cotton refers to the River Dove as part of ‘our little world’ which includes himself as part of Derbyshire’s “world”. [viii] Cotton work also contains humour as Cotton “pokes fun” at himself by depicting himself as having a lack of awareness and sophistication something which the reader can guess he has. For example, in his verse about Poole’s cavern guides where he states, ‘Your Peak-bred Convoy of rude Men and Boys,   All the way whooting with that dreadful Noife [noise].’[ix]  The use of word  ‘rude’ not only suggests the characters of the men in Poole’s cavern but also that of Cotton because his use of the word makes him seem ‘rude’ in terms of meaning something which is crude or simplistic in this case Cotton’s  use of language.[x]  Thus, this is an intentional way in which to create humour with an audience aware, that Cotton is presenting Cotton the poet as a parody of himself.

Ultimately, both poems give wondrous accounts of Derbyshire and point out some of its sights which are still very popular today including Chatsworth House, which has been referred to as a ‘pallace’.[xi] And even though, the poems are not accurate and exaggerate Derbyshire “beauties” during the Seventeenth Century, they are useful in showing what elite members of society were interested in and the way in which they presented themselves in written texts.

Further Reading:

Edwards, Jess, ‘Thomas Hobbes, Charles Cotton and the “wonders” of the Derbyshire Peak’, Studies in Travel Writing 16:1 (2012)

Buzard, James, ‘The Grand Tour and after (1660–1840)’ in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, eds. Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs (Cambridge, 2002)

[i] Thomas Hobbes, De mirabilibus pecci (London, 1636).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London, 1651).

[iv] Thomas Dekker, Penny-wise, Povnd Foolish (London, 1631).

[v] Charles Cotton, The Wonders of the Peake (London, 1681).

[vi] Charles Cotton, The Wonders of the Peake (2nd edn, London, 1683), p.27.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid., p.2.

[ix] Ibid., p.18.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Thomas Hobbes, De mirabilibus pecci (London, 1636), p.10.

 

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